Ours was a comprehensive, brutal, and clinical vengeance. It was a dish served piping hot, Old Klingon Proverbs notwithstanding. Davis ran three plays and gained 7 yards to start the game, and it took one touch by Ty Montgomery to remove any suspense there might have been about the outcome or the extent of this mismatch. Stanford scored all 45 of the game's points, didn't allow Davis across midfield until the final play of the game, and had scoring plays of 60, 40, 52, and 44 yards. On this day, Stanford was who we thought they could be, at least against an overmatched opponent. Judging from the praise from UC Davis coach Ron Gould gave after the game, the Cardinal were who the Aggies thought they'd be. He crowned them "arguably the best team in college football."
We shall see.
Regardless, there were many, many things to like about the game -- and yes, there are some potential concerns moving forward, even from a demolition like this one. So let's get to it:
The Will of the People
Coach Shaw and his staff haven't been able to move ten feet since Pasadena without hearing the masses yearning for the tight end position to come off the side of the milk carton, and if the first game is an indication, the message was not in vain. Stanford tight ends caught more than 50 percent of their entire 2013 output in game one. Kevin Hogan (and Evan Crower) appeared comfortable looking for them and throwing to them, and even better, the tight ends proved to be physical runners after the catch. Stanford's passing game has a chance to put up many, many points this year if the Cardinal continues to utilize its threats at all spots of the field. Speaking of which...
Christian the Lion
On one of the podcasts, David Lombardi and I predicted that this team was going to make more use of its true freshmen this year than in seasons past, and leading the way for that class was Christian McCaffrey. Yes, he was wide, wide, wide, WIDE open on his tourchdown catch, but he was electric on his punt return and was also flying all around the field on kick coverage. He looks like an extremely talented, pure football player, and hopefully becomes quite the headache for opposing defensive Coordinators starting this Saturday.
An Angry, Angry Defense
Most expected Stanford's defense to take a step back this year, given the losses sustained. That step back is going to have to come at a later date, if it comes at all. Stanford's defensive line, led by the irreplaceable David Parry, collapsed and blew up protection schemes all day long. Tarpley and Blake Martinez were sharp, fast, and furious. Perhaps best of all, the secondary showed signs of improvement. As many pointed out during the game, Stanford's defensive backs did not just tackle cleanly; they also broke on the ball and disrupted passes. That's something fans have seen rarely in the BCS era. Stanford's defensive vulnerability against the pass has been well documented but it looks like Duane Akina may have this part of the unit playing at higher level this year.
SHUT UP AND TAKE THE ROSY-COLORED GLASSES OFF, YOU PENCIL-NECKED SURRENDER MONKEES!
This portion of our program is dedicated to the one and only Doctor of Football, Johnny O, who always likes to keep the praise fair and balanced with the criticism. And yes, even in a mauling like this one, there are some issues for the Cardinal to work through.
1. The offensive line looked shaky at several moments. The group committed three penalties within the first 20 plays, and had a three-play sequence (No. 16-18) in which they allowed a sack, false started, and committed a clipping penalty. Overall, Stanford put up numbers on the ground, and none of its top three rushers (Sanders, Young, Wright) had a single negative carry, but this wasn't a Tunnel Workers' Union performance. The run game appears to have been tweaked for a number of reasons. First off, there were far more counters and plays designed for cutbacks to the weak side. On one hand, you have to credit the coaches for adapting to their personnel, but then again, I'd still like to see them running Power a lot better than they did. And speaking of which, after a season as a 'right-handed' line, Stanford seems to have shifted. Bloomgren put the tight end by Peat on most occasions, and they ran Power to the left, with the pulling right guard, instead of last year when they had Yankey pulling from left to right. Whether this is a commentary on Johnny Caspers versus Joshua Garnett remains to be seen, but the fact is that the running game looked different in many ways on Saturday, and it raises concerns. There is no reason not to like their long term prospects this year, but the short term arrives Saturday in the form of Leonard Williams and an extremely talented USC defense. Furthermore, when it comes to that crucial short yardage situation, be it in the Red Zone or anywhere else, how are the coaches going to handle strategy if Power isn't the go to play it has been in the past? Speaking of the coaches...
2. They deserve credit for establishing an interest in the tight end, as well as for the success of the deep passes. Moving forward, though, Stanford scored two touchdons in six red zone opportunities. Granted, many of those chances came with the backups in and the results determined, but Stanford's not beating USC by kicking field goals (Ed: They certainly didn't last year, when they scored only 10 points in four trips to the red zone against the Trojans). The coaches did attempt to throw a pass to the fullback early in the game at the goal line, but UC Davis had it covered. Nevertheless, Stanford's red zone success is almost certainly going to require the incorporation of the fullback and tight positions into the passing game.
3. Speaking of kickers, Jordan Williamson was lauded for becoming Stanfordís all-time leading scorer on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, he missed a 39 yard-field goal on the same day that USC's Andre Heidari went 1 for 2, missing on a 37-yard kick. A missed FG largely impacted last year's game, and given the margin of recent games against SC, this has to be a bit of a concern for both teams.
So the moment has arrived. Stanford faces the most talented team it's going to see all year. The Cardinal have had success in recent seasons against both USC and Steve Sarkisian, and now they get their first chance to play both at the same time. And don't be fooled by the noise coming from Troy surrounding the team's first exlosive performance. Stanford has its work cut out this Saturday, but this is not not a task beyond its means. What's most compelling is that given the state of the team, the usual means (power running game) may have to step aside for different ways (deep passing game, tight end usage) for success to happen. I remember last November, and my blood is already boiling. From Balboa Island to Chuck Taylor Grove, the trash talking has commenced.
Four more days.
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